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Whether you’re building on the foundation of a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or looking to enter the social work career field, earning a Master of Social Work (MSW) can be a transformative step. Plus, with different specializations to choose from, you can tailor your MSW to your passions and career aspirations.

Why Pursue an MSW?

If you’re considering enrolling in an MSW program, you should feel confident about this decision to invest in your future. Consider these benefits of earning a master’s degree in social work.

Expand your knowledge.

An MSW degree program digs deeply into human behavior and psychology, societal factors, social justice, and advocacy to inform evidence-based practice in the social work field. These programs blend theoretical knowledge and practical experience to equip you with real-life skills, so you’re ready to put your expertise to use to help others.

Earn a higher credential in the field.

Compared to a BSW, an MSW qualifies you for more independent and varied work. For example, in Ohio, a bachelor's in social work allows you to become a licensed social worker, but you must practice under the supervision of an independently licensed clinician to provide clinical therapy services or diagnose and treat mental conditions. In contrast, an MSW qualifies you to practice as an independent clinical social worker.

Increase your earning potential.

You can also expect to earn more as a social worker with a master’s degree. The typical salary social workers earn varies across industries and locations, but a major factor to consider is your level of education. A National Association of Social Workers (NASW) survey found that MSW salaries exceed BSW salaries by more than $13,000.

Cash in on the convenience of an online program.

If you’re worried about trying to fit college classes into your busy schedule or commuting to a faraway campus, consider earning your MSW online. With an online program, you can invest in your future without putting your career or other responsibilities on pause. You can fit your coursework where it makes sense and learn from anywhere.

Social Work Specialization Options

Although all MSW programs cover some of the same core concepts, the exact subjects covered depend on the degree’s area of specialization. Each specialization prepares graduates for specific roles within the broader field of social work

With MVNU Online, graduate students can choose from two specializations (or concentrations): 

  • School social work
  • Behavioral health

Each of these specializations prepares learners for fulfilling career paths in social work. Learn more about each specialization below to find the right fit for your goals. To choose an MSW specialization, consider which career paths best fit your interests and career goals.

School Social Work MSW Concentration

If you’re passionate about education and helping kids thrive, an MSW concentration in school social work is the perfect choice. Although you could channel the education you receive from this program into several career paths in social work, you’ll be especially well prepared to take on a position as a school social worker.

What do school social workers do?

School social workers play a crucial role in supporting students' academic success and overall well-being. They work with school administrators and faculty to build a positive learning environment and work to address challenges students are facing. School social workers also advocate for students' rights and access to resources, ensuring they have the necessary support to thrive academically and personally.

School social workers also typically work directly with families and students, providing counseling and intervention services to address social, emotional, and behavioral challenges and help students realize their potential. (Note that not all school counselors are social workers; school social workers require specialized training and licensure.)

What’s the job outlook for school social workers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for child, family, and school social workers is growing at an expected rate of 5 percent from 2022 to 2032. There will always be a need for social workers in educational settings. 

School social work is one of the top-paying MSW specializations. School social workers can expect to earn a median salary of $62,980. That’s considerably higher than median wages for social workers in other industries. (Keep in mind that holding a master’s degree can help you earn a higher salary than you would with just a bachelor’s degree.)

How does the MSW help you in a career as a school social worker? 

You may be able to work as a school social worker as a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) with a bachelor’s degree. However, earning your master’s degree qualifies you for higher levels of licensure and can open up more career opportunities.

In Ohio, a school social worker with a master’s degree might hold a Five-Year Professional Pupil Services License or be a Licensed Independent Social Worker. In either case, they are qualified to take on responsibilities not given to school social workers who only hold a bachelor’s degree. These responsibilities include, for example, providing direct mental health counseling services (rather than working under supervision) and providing crisis intervention services.

Behavioral Health MSW Concentration


If you’re passionate about helping individuals struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues, you should consider an MSW concentration in behavioral health. This concentration focuses on clinical and trauma-informed social work practice.

What do behavioral health social workers do?

Behavioral health social workers can assess mental health conditions and provide counseling and therapy to help clients manage their conditions and improve their well-being. Additionally, they may provide support to clients' families and caregivers, offer crisis intervention services, and facilitate access to community resources and support networks.

Behavioral health social workers can work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, mental health clinics, rehabilitation centers, and private practices.

What’s the job outlook for behavioral health social workers?

If you’re looking for MSW specializations in demand, behavioral health is an excellent choice; demand for behavioral health social workers is growing rapidly. The BLS predicts the number of open positions for mental health and substance abuse social workers to grow by 11 percent from 2022 to 2032, making it the fastest-growing field within social work. That growth is driven by increasing awareness of mental health and addiction issues (especially opioid use disorder), causing more people to seek treatment. 

These social workers earn a median salary of $55,960. However, typical salaries tend to be higher for behavioral health social workers with a master’s degree compared to those with just a bachelor’s degree and a lower level of licensure.

How does the MSW help you in a career as a behavioral health social worker? 

Much of the work behavioral health social workers undertake requires them to hold an advanced license. In Ohio, for instance, you must have a Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) designation to perform clinical social work. With a master’s degree and the appropriate licensure, you can assess conditions, create treatment plans, and provide therapeutic services. You can do some of these things with just an LSW, but you must do so under the supervision of an independently licensed clinician.

Pursue Your Passion with the Right MSW Specialization for You

No matter the setting or the precise job duties they perform, social workers pour themselves into individuals and communities and make our world a better place. With an MSW, you can open up new career paths in social work and gain the advanced skills needed to make a powerful impact.

If you’re ready to earn your Master of Social Work degree, consider which concentration makes the most sense for you. Consider your interests, career ambitions, and the needs present in your community. How do you want to make a difference? Now consider what degree program and specialization will help you realize your goal.

If you’re currently working as a social worker, consider which MSW concentration will be most relevant to you—either in your current role, a more advanced position, or an entirely different role that you’re more passionate about pursuing. 

Want to learn more about advancing or redirecting your career? Read our e-book, How to “Recession Proof” Your Career with Upskilling and Reskilling

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